royal court, there were many court ladies. In Korean,
a court lady is called gungnyeo, which is short for gungjung
yeogwan (a lady officer of the royal court). The hierarchy
of court ladies was multi-leveled, ranging from a sanggung
in rank 5 to a four- or five-year-old child naein. Court
ladies were largely divided into sanggung and naein (also
called nain). When a regular naein served for more than
15 years, she would be awarded with an ornamental hairpin
for a sanggung. Therefore, a newly appointed sanggung
usually ranged in 35-45 years old. We often associate
sanggung with maturity and authority. This may be attributable
to their many years of experience in the royal court.
A court lady at the rank of sanggung was treated well
enough to live in her own house with servants. Titles
for court ladies varied greatly depending on their age,
rank and position: girl naein, child naein, trainee naein,
saenggaksi, hanganim sanggung, jimil naein, supervisor
sanggung, chief sanggung, master hanganim, majesty sanggung.
The duties and responsibilities assigned to court ladies
were also hierarchical. Jimil naein, who sat at the bedside
of the royal family and accompanied them at all times
like a personal secretary, was considered most senior.
Court ladies in charge of sewing and embroidery and those
responsible for cooking were next in rank.
like the other court ladies, a cookery sanggung was usually
over 40 years old when she was promoted to the rank of
sanggung. By then, she would be a highly skilled chef
with over thirty years of cooking experience. Naein assigned
to kitchen were classified as naein for living quarters.
At normal times, they would prepare royal cuisine for
a king and a queen every morning and every evening. In
the late Joseon Dynasty, naein posted in kitchens dressed
in a jade-colored jacket and a navy blue skirt, just like
the other naein. When they were at work, they would roll
up their sleeves, wear another jacket - a violet, unlined
jacket - and put on a white apron.
At the palaces
for a king and for a queen, sura (a meal prepared for
king) was served. A place where sura was prepared was
called suragan or sojubang, which was located at a place
some distance from their palaces. In the case of Changdeokgung
Palace, suragan is located quite far away from daejojeon,
the living quarters. The table-setting for surasang
(a table set with sura) was prepared and cleaned up
at toeseongan, a food arrangement room. At sanggwabang
(a dessert kitchen), a variety of desserts, such as
fresh fruit, cooked fruit, baked goods, tea, fruit punch
and porridge, were prepared.
the royal court in the late Joseon Dynasty, sura at ordinary
times was prepared by sanggung assigned to the kitchen.
However, for royal banquets, male chefs called daeryeong
suksu prepared the meals at sukseolso, a kitchen built
in a temporary house. Since banquet foods involved butchering
an ox and boiling it in an enormous pot, it was too much
for women. Daeryeong suksu, a special chef for banquets,
literally means "skilled hands waiting to be called
on by the royal court." In order to become a suksu,
one had to shadow and learn from a skilled suksu for tens
of years. Only then could he earn the title of suksu.
One can easily guess how skillful and proficient they
would be. When the country collapsed in the late Great
Han Empire, suksu for the royal court began to work at
commercial Korean restaurants. Naturally, royal banquet
foods became familiar to the general public.
are some court ladies who accompanied Queen Yunbi, who
had come to the palace in 1906 as the wife of King Sunjong,
and shared her joys and sorrows for about sixty years
until she died. Sanggung who served Queen Yunbi until
her last moments at Nakseonjae include Myeong-gil Kim,
Chang-bok Park and Ok-ryeon Seong. Hee-sun Han (1889-1971),
the last cookery sanggung in the Joseon Dynasty, joined
the royal court as a nain for a kitchen at Deoksugung
Palace when she was 13 years old (the 39th year of King
Gojong's reign). As a cookery sanggung in the royal court,
she worked at Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace
and prepared foods for King Gojong (r. 1863-1907) and
King Sunjong (r. 1907-1910).
(b. 1920) became an associate professor at Sookmyung Women's
College when she was 22 years old and taught cooking to
students in the Joseon Dynasty. Therefore, she approached
Hee-sun Han and was able to get closer to royal court
people, who kept their distance from outside people. While
learning about foods of the royal court, she quantified
those foods and documented recipes in order to preserve
the dishes of the royal court that were fading away. At
the same time, she began writing a book to pass on the
academic background of royal court foods and their actual
at that time, in an effort to preserve disappearing traditional
heritage, the Korean government was designating it as
an intangible cultural asset and those skilled in this
function were appointed as skill-holders. After great
endeavor, in 1971 Hae-seong Hwang finally had the royal
cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty designated as intangible
cultural asset No. 38 and Hee-sun Han, the only surviving
person with firsthand knowledge of the royal cuisine at
that time, recognized as a first-generation skill-holder.
In addition, in the same year, she founded the Institute
of Korean Royal Cuisine and produced a number of graduates,
including Bok-ryeo Han (currently Director of the Institute
of Korean Royal Cuisine). The Institute of Korean Royal
Cuisine is promoting royal cuisine and traditional cooking
to the public through education and exhibits.
We are able to learn about and enjoy royal cuisine,
the greatest food in Korea, and be entertained by a
TV drama about royal cuisine thanks to the concerted
efforts of people like Sanggung Hee-sun Han and Prof.